US judge awards lessor over $400 million for Boeing 747-8s stuck in Russia

AirBridge Cargo was ordered to pay over $400 million in damages to BOC Aviation over three Boeing 747-8Fs
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A United States judge ordered Volga-Dnepr Group to pay aircraft lessor BOC Aviation more than $400 million after the Russian-based company defaulted on the leases of three Boeing 747-8Fs.  

Lewis J. Liman, a US District court judge from the Southern District of New York, found in favor of BOC Aviation, awarding the lessor $406.2 million.

The trio of aircraft were operated by AirBridge Cargo, a subsidiary of Volga-Dnepr. 

A recovered Boeing 747-8F 

While BOC Aviation managed to recover one Boeing 747-8F from AirBridge Cargo, namely a Boeing 747-8F registered as VQ-BFE and currently operated by Air Belgium as OE-LFI, two other aircraft are still in Russia. data shows that AirBridge Cargo currently has 12 Boeing 747-8Fs stored at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO), including VQ-BFU and VP-BIN, which the lessor wants to recover from the sanctioned country. 

The trial was held on April 3, 2023. BOC Aviation filed the complaint in March 2022, shortly after Russia declared war on Ukraine. 

In the complaint, the lessor argued that the cancelation “of reinsurance triggered a default under a provision of the parties’ lease agreement that requires AirBridge to maintain specific types and amounts of reinsurance”.  

The agreement between the two parties allows BOC Aviation “to repossess immediately the aircraft and its records in the event of a default by AirBridge, specifically authorizing BOCA to enter upon the premises where the aircraft is located and take immediate possession and remove the aircraft, by summary proceedings or otherwise,” the complaint alleged.  

However, when the Singapore-based lessor terminated the leases of the aircraft, AirBridge Cargo refused to accept the termination and demanded that BOC Aviation allow one Boeing 747-8F to be flown from Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) to SVO. The Russian carrier had already flown a pair of 747-8F aircraft owned by BOC Aviation from China to SVO. 

Cancelation of insurance

On March 1, 2022, the lessor was informed that the reinsurance policy of the three Boeing 747-8F would be canceled on March 7. Two days later, BOC Aviation sent a notice to AirBridge Cargo to cease the commercial operation of the three aircraft, stating that they would be put into “storage at a location outside Russia by not later than March 7, 2022”. 

The complaint depicted a timeline where the lessor learned of AirBridge Cargo’s plans to fly VQ-BFE (now registered as OE-LFI) from HKG to SVO by checking HKG’s departure table on March 6, 2022. This was the same day the lessor found out via that the other two 747-8Fs left China and were en route to Russia. 

When VQ-BFU diverted to Dubai International Airport (DXB) while it traveled between China and Russia, BOC Aviation’s attempts to ground the aircraft at DXB were fruitless, the complaint continued.  

Per ADS-B Exchange data, the aircraft only appeared on the radar shortly before arriving in Dubai, leaving the airport no longer than three hours after landing at DXB. Meanwhile, VP-BIN flew from China to Russia directly, appearing on the radar only after arriving in Russia, according to ADS-B Exchange data. Meanwhile, data shows that VP-BIN departed Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport (CGO) and flew to SVO directly. 

AirBridge Cargo previously said that, following a year-long voluntary suspension of operations, it would resume flights with the Russian-built Ilyushin IL-96s. The carrier ceased operations citing sanctions imposed on Russia and its aviation industry following the invasion of Ukraine. 

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